Jack Schrupp started a whole foods-based protein powder company from his kitchen, somewhat by accident. Last year, he had over $2 million in sales.
A teacher, with an affinity for athletics, particularly skiing, Schrupp had always been interested in his diet and health. Yet when he started reading the ingredient lists on protein powders, he was disappointed to see that they were made with preservatives, stabilizers, and inexpensive ingredients that were not healthy for this gut.
“I don’t have any chronic gut issues, but when I would have a protein shake, I just didn’t feel good afterwards. I tried both vegan and non-vegan options…and still got stomach aches or felt really bloated,” he says from his New England home. So he started making his own experimental batches in his kitchen.
“I’ll admit, they didn’t taste the best at first, but they worked, and it was a few simple ingredients that I had literally ground up myself.”
In 2020, Schrupp began Drink Wholesome, selling his protein powder mixes online, while still working a full-time job as a teacher at a boarding school. Yet the pandemic changed things for him; he could no longer do the in-person tastings he was planning on to get the word out about the company. “I thought I’d go to sporting events, races and give out samples. But that wasn’t happening anytime soon.”
So he focused on digital, primarily his website. While sales were slow at first, within a few months, the wholesome ingredients caught the eye of customers looking for gut-friendly options that were easier to digest. As word started to spread that his concoctions were lighter on the system, and thus, a better option for those battling conditions which limited their food options, he saw an uptick in sales. “At that point, I was just selling to family and friends and then I started getting orders from strangers and it sounds weird, but that was the best thing, people who didn’t know me were buying it.”
Schrupp started to ramp up his inventory, using the cash flow from sales to buy more ingredients, expand his manufacturing, and eventually introduce new products — meal replacement drinks, in addition to protein powders, which helped a similar set of consumers looking to supplement their diet with an easy-to-digest formula.
With a focus on clean, straightforward ingredients, Schrupp sources many of the essentials from American suppliers and growers: oats, almonds, eggs, peanuts, and chickpeas. And he’s opted for actual foods, not natural flavorings. So there’s real vanilla beans in his mixes. “It’s crazy expensive, but you can’t match that flavor,” he says.
All of the ingredients, which rarely exceed 5, are listed on the front of the bag in big bold letters. It’s a clear deviation from the typical ingredient list hidden on the back. When asked why other brands haven’t taken this approach, Schrupp says, “It’s expensive. Mine is definitely a more premium product.”
Using less expensive fillers and core ingredients, such as pea protein or whey, he says can help bring down costs. But those can often be the very reason why some people cannot stomach protein shakes.
“Let’s be real. You should be getting most of your nutrients from real food, not supplements. But if you need more protein in your diet, or a convenient way of getting it, that’s when you should be using a protein powder mix. Not the other way around,” he notes.
Schrupp’s growth has come with the usual challenges: with egg prices skyrocketing this year, he saw his costs triple overnight. Or when shipping costs were sky-high during the pandemic, he had to be a bit more prudent about where he looked to source international ingredients from. But he’s been able to weather the storm. In fact, he had just over $20,000 in sales in 2020 when he launched; but in 2022, it’s now over $2 million.
It’s reached that point when Schrupp will have to give up his day job this year, and focus solely on the business. “I’ll be the first full-time employee on the books,” he says, laughing. So far, he’s built the company by using a variety of contractors. His products are packaged by a facility that works with a New England-based granola company as well. He hires individuals for specific tasks. It’s an old-fashioned approach to building the business from the ground up, and based on sales, rather than flooding it with investment.
Beyond just selling protein powder mixes, he’s opening up the dialogue on nutrition—even amongst the athletic circles he works and plays in. “Many athletes know that protein is good for you, but they’re not thinking about the source of that protein. In today’s world of highly processed food, it’s not just about getting in good fats and proteins, it’s about which ones you’re turning to daily. Think about it, if you’re having that supplement or protein shake everyday, you’re putting in more and more of those preservatives in your gut. That’s not good over a long period of time,” he explains.
“Keep it real, foods.” he says empathetically.